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Community guilt

South Koreans' response to VA Tech shootings

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Once South Korean native Cho Seung-Hui was identified as the perpetrator of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, Koreans in Charlotte, across the country and around the globe paid attention.

"We deeply regret what happened there," says Joseph Yi, president of the Korean Association of Charlotte. To express their remorse, area Korean churches, including the Korean Presbyterian Church of Charlotte and the Korean Catholic Church, held memorial services for the 32 victims of the Virginia Tech massacre last weekend.

"I really feel guilty," says Hae-Soo Oh, a mathematics professor at University of North Carolina-Charlotte. "I think most of the Korean community has some kind of guilty feeling because [the shooter] was Korean. We are not guilty, but we have that kind of feeling."

Abroad, the South Korean government offered its condolences and hoped the massacre would not "stir up racial prejudice or confrontation," according to an article posted on April 17. Other news outlets have also reported on Korean-Americans' fear of backlash regarding the incident. Brad Baldia from the National Association of Asian American Professionals says that scapegoating is common when a situation relates to minority communities. "It happened with the Japanese, and it happened post 9/11 against South Asians, Arabs and Muslims," says Baldia. "I think there will be some backlash against Asians in general, whether they know whether the person is Korean or not."

Initially, Yi wondered if hate crimes would occur after the shooter's identity was revealed as Korean. He even warned his daughter, who's the same age as Cho and also about to graduate from college, to be cautious. But now he doesn't believe there will be any racial tension. "[Cho] came here in the second grade. He's an American kid -- that's the way I look at it. He was educated here in elementary school, middle school and high school. He would have graduated in a few weeks. His legal status was Korean because he had a green card. I think he thought of himself as an American."

Although a concrete motive may never be established, Yi and Oh both say that a breakdown in communication between children and their immigrant parents is a big problem in the Korean community. "First-generation immigrant parents work really hard," Oh says. "They don't have enough time to communicate with their kids. Kids stay home alone and the parents work at their stores all day. There's no solution -- they need money to survive."


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